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Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

We should be using see-through face masks to help deaf people

A group of charities have called for the public to wear transparent face masks to prevent ‘months of misery’ for deaf people.
Nine charities, led by the National Deaf Children’s Society, are asking for future Government guidance on face coverings to include advice on speaking to deaf or deafblind people while wearing them. They have also written to Public Health England and NHS England asking them to commission transparent face masks.

Nine million people in England are deaf or live with some kind of hearing loss, with the majority using lip-reading and facial expressions to help them communicate. The charities have said this will be impossible if the public start to regularly wear standard face masks or other opaque coverings.

The Government’s latest guidance advises wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces such as public transport, where social distancing may not be possible.

Earlier this month, the Government also released guidance on how to make a face-covering out of an unwanted t-shirt.

Although they have not been made mandatory, Transport for London has strongly advised passengers to wear the coverings.

But the nine organisations – which includes Action on Hearing Loss, the Royal Association for Deaf people and Action Deafness – highlighted the impact of opaque face masks particularly on children, who may struggle to hear at a social distance.

Steph Halder, president of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, said the charity had already heard concerns about the impact of face coverings on deaf children.

Chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society Susan Daniels said: ‘This is an extremely challenging time for everyone and we’re relying on each other’s support, understanding and patience to get through it.

‘Deaf people are no exception and if face masks or coverings become widespread, they could experience months of misery as they struggle to understand what is said to them.’

She added: ‘This could be even harder for children, who may not have the confidence to keep asking for things to be repeated and often find it easier to just pretend they understand.’

The letter was also signed by the British Deaf Association, Sign Health, Sense and the UK Council on Deafness.

The charities have recommended five tips on how to speak with a face mask, including writing phrases down, using a text to speech app or conducting conversations over video call where there is no need to wear a mask.

When conversations do need to happen in person, the group recommends using a clear face mask or visor, or finding a quiet place to talk.

Linda Richards, chair of the British Deaf Association, said: ‘Use of clear face masks and visors/shields with Deaf people is reassuring, reduces the risk of misunderstandings, and gives us the chance – indeed, the right – to be as fully informed and involved in our treatment as is possible.

‘Don’t mask the message with an unnecessary barrier.’
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